"Water Lilies" at The Art Institute of Chicago

TechNews Writer
Mon Mar 11, 2019

There is a crack, a crack in everything. Nothing is completely perfect, not you, not I. At the surface, everything might appear to be flawless, but humans are anything but that. We are creatures filled with mysteries, sorrows, unreachable dreams, and ambitions. On a recent visit to the Art Institute of Chicago, I found a painting -- "The Water Lily Pond" by Claude Monet (1917 to 1919) – which grabbed my interest and curiosity instantly. Claude Monet’s monumental composition, "Water Lilies," occupies a unique position among the thousands of paintings and art pieces.

Oscar-Claude Monet was born on November 14, 1840, in Paris, France. As he was growing up in Le Havre he developed a good reputation as a charcoal impressionist. These cartoons earned him his first income from art and encouraged him to pursue art more seriously. He was never satisfied with following the old masters. He would rather look out of a window or visit some place in nature and draw what he saw. In 1890, he bought a plot of land and lavished an extraordinary amount of time and money to set a well signified, garden setting with a pond filled with imported lilies and spanned by a Japanese-style wooden bridge. The garden was a treasure to his art world and it was the subject of many paintings Monet made at the turn of the new century and during its first decade.

At the time people wanted to pay artists who painted more realistically. Money was the power and patrons who bought Monet's paintings were mostly royalties. Monet’s unrealistic paintings began to change the market of art. Monet broke the old rules of realism and made new rules for impressionism. Because his patrons were political figures, he began to politicize his art by showing his interest in imagination and neglecting the realism within his paintings radically.  It was a deep political accomplishment for impressionism.

Monet’s "Water Lily Pond" (1917) appeals to people because of its unconventional but beautiful intense colors. Demographics really love the idea of seeing something plain. It is much more than just water lilies reflecting on the water in the pond, but it is also a reflection of the life of an artist, Claude Monet: being able to indulge in your imagination and seemingly the demand of the artist’s patrons. Because of all the above reasons, I think Monet’s "Water Lily Pond" painting appeals to everybody. But on the other hand, the painting was controversial during Monet’s time because of the realistic establishment: changing from realistic ideas to impressionistic ideas was radical. Impressionism got the feeling of heavy gravity hiding behind the soft edges of the painting.   

When I first saw this painting it was hard to identify a feeling that Monet was trying to say. But I finally identified and analyzed three points as follows.

First, Monet is giving us an impression of where he fits into it because he paints the reflection of the clouds and his shadow in above painting. Focusing tightly on the surface of the water, Monet succeeded in making paintings that convert the viewer’s role from observation to immersion. His shadow represents that he is present there and as the viewer of the painting, it becomes our shadow too. It is not just an exercise in finding these reflections on the water, it is also an exercise in perspective. We are invited to see the world through his eyes; he invites us to occupy his face for a moment, even though they are old and full of cataracts, and reflect on his life as an artist and as a human being.

Secondly, because of his vision loss, colors intensified and lost the ability to identify shapes sharply. On the other hand, he could be painting realistically to himself. When he looked out to the shimmering body of water, he may lose shapes but the colors intensify. Defusing edges, blurriness, and fogginess of the painting represents that interpretation of indefinite limits. The horizon line gives us the connection between sky and the land and the location of ourselves in a painting. But omitting the horizon line and edges makes the viewer disoriented.

Thirdly, the vertical strokes of the water, circular swirls of lilies, and the fuzzy and blurry quality of the painting are the results of cataracts which affected Monet’s sight. This also made it harder for him to distinguish lines in nature but made it easier for him to put less distinction in his painting. By connecting Monet’s rippling water lily pond and his distorted viewpoint of the world, both create a perfect reflection. I think he tried to reflect his own reflection of death because of the above reasons.

Monet’s power is that not of a stroke of inspiration, but of a deeply enduring passion, both for the artist’s subject and for his vocation. Monet’s idea of providing a respite from an increasingly urban, commercial, and technological world was prolific. “One instant, one aspect of nature contains it all,” said Claude Monet, referring to the "Water Lily Pond" masterpieces.







Appears in
2019 - Spring - Issue 7